This is a clash of conference champions. LSU won the SEC regular-season title, and Michigan State was the Big Ten’s regular-season co-champ (with Purdue) before winning the Big Ten tournament.

Matchup to watch: Both teams are tenacious on the boards. Michigan State ranks 29th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (76.8), and LSU is fourth in offensive rebounding percentage (36.2). “They have one of those junkyard dog teams that I’ve always appreciated,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.

X-factor: LSU reached the Sweet 16 without its head coach, as Will Wade is suspended after an FBI wiretap reportedly caught him discussing a financial payment to a recruit. Under interim coach Tony Benford, the Tigers avoided a first-round upset with a five-point win over Yale and then got a Tremont Waters layup with 1.6 seconds remaining to nip Maryland 69-67.

Three stars to watch

1. Cassius Winston, MSU: This excellent guard was the Big Ten Player of the Year.

2. Tremont Waters, LSU: SEC Defensive Player of the Year also leads the Tigers in scoring.

3. Skylar Mays, LSU: Waters’ backcourt mate averages 13.6 points per game.

Joe’s prediction

Michigan State 67, LSU 62. The Gophers didn’t offer much resistance last round, one game after the Spartans looked vulnerable against Bradley. But at some point not having its head coach should catch up to LSU, especially opposite Tom Izzo.